February 8, 2007

Binney and Smith

And the man behind the brand is...
Joseph Binney

In 1864 Joseph Binney, an Englishman, launched a modest chemical company in Peekskill, New York to grind, package and distribute hardwood charcoal called lampblack. The carbon extract was used for shoe polish, stove blacking and ink, as well as the red oxide that has traditionally colored America’s barns.

In 1885, Binney retired and his son and nephew formed a new partnership named Binney & Smith to continue the company. The cousins expanded the product line and in 1900 the company bought a water-powered stone mill along Bushkill Creek near Easton, Pennsylvania, close to a slate quarry where pencils could be manufactured.

The pencils were successful and a salesman reported from the schools he sold pencils to that the chalk of the day was hard, scratchy, dusty and darn near permanent on blackboards. Binney & Smith developed a dustless chalk that won a gold medal for excellence at the 1902 St. Louis Exposition.

But it was their next gold medal that was to bring Binney & Smith lasting fame. In 1903 the firm made their first box of Crayola crayons. The box cost a nickel and held eight colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, brown and black. Alice Binney, Edwin’s wife, coined the word Crayola by joining “craie,” from the French word meaning chalk, with “ola,” from oleaginous, meaning oily. After taking the Gold Medal in 1904 the crayons were marketed as the “Gold Medal Line” and packaged in familiar yellow and green boxes.

Crayons had existed as far back as 17th century England. Thomas Jefferson wrote about them. But Crayola’s colored wax sticks caught the public’s fancy, virtually snuffing out the competition. Today Binney & Smith makes two billion Crayola crayons a year and you’ll have to go elsewhere for your lampblack.

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